Momentum through Meditation – Eknath Easwaran
All the great traditions of mystics agree that to take to the spiritual life, it is not necessary to withdraw from society. We do not have to leave our family and community and retire to Mount Athos, or try to discover the harmony of nature in the jungles of a Micronesian island. For some, of course, the cloister is the right place; this is a matter of individual temperament and choice. But spiritual values can be lived anywhere: with our family, at work, wherever we are.
If you ask the person in the street about Saint Teresa of Avila or Saint Francis of Assisi, you will often get some comment like, “Visionary. Impractical. Could not keep their feet on the ground.” Because their inner life is so profound, we think that they have turned their backs on living. But one of the most practical reasons why the mystics turn their attention inward in meditation is to tap the power for solving problems that come up throughout the day.
This is very much like getting momentum in a track event. A few years ago, watching the Olympics on television, I was surprised to see how far back some of these athletes went to get a running start. In the pole vault one guy walked up to the bar, then turned around and strode so far back that I thought he had decided to go home. If you did not know about the pole vault you might think, “What is the matter with this fellow? Instead of competing, he is running away.” He is not running away; he is going back to get the momentum he needs for a really big jump.
That is the purpose of meditation too. Instead of getting out of bed and plunging directly into life’s maelstrom unprepared, you sit down for a half hour or so in meditation to get a good start. When you go out into the world, you have a good reserve of energy and security on which to draw, to be patient instead of angry, sympathetic instead of selfish, and loving instead of resentful.
One of my friends was warned by an acquaintance no to let meditation turn her into a zombie. I hear this from many people who are afraid they might lose their personality if they eliminate the sense of “I, me and mine” from their consciousness. I remind them that the word “personality” is related to the Latin word “persona”, a mask. In Alexander Dumas’ novel, the supposed twin brother of Lous XIV was forced to wear an iron mask for so many years that it became part of him. However hard he tried, he could not take it off to reveal his real face. All of us are like this. Through many years – or many lives – our minds have developed habits of selfishness and separateness through endless effortss to satisfy desires for personal pleasure and profit, power and prestige. If we can throw away this mask of separateness, our real personality, the Atman, shines forth in beauty, wisdom and love.
Down through the ages, mystics from all traditions have been telling us how to get this self-centered, little “I” out of the way to make room for the big “I”, our real Self, which is the source of joy. Unfortunately, most trends in our civilization are in the opposite direction: “Think about yourself always.” What they are really saying is, “Do not ever be happy.”
When my niece was with us in California several years ago, she had her heart set on being a hopscotch champion. It seemed to me that she was making good progress, but the subtleties of the game escaped me. So finally I asked her, “What is the secret of championship hopscotch?”
Her answer was right to the point: “Small feet.”
Even I could appreciate that. If you have constable’s feet, so long and broad that they cut across all the lines, you cannot get anywhere in hopscotch. Life is like that too: If you have a big ego, you cannot go anywhere without fouling on the lines. But there are people who have petite, size five egos, who find it easy to remember the needs of others. They may hot have much money or be highly educated, but they are loved wherever they go.
Sometime on the freeway I see an immense mobile home being pulled along by a truck. Warning flags stick out all over, and a big red sigh at the back warns, “Wide load”. Everybody knows what it means: “Watch out! I am not going to fit in my own lane, so I am going to take up some of yours too.”